Aesthetics & Alienation
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A complete and original theory of aesthetics based on Marx and Althusser in the modernist Marxist anti-humanist tradition (Brecht, Althusser, Benjamin, Adorno). The main concepts that arise from this work are: the aesthetic level of practice, aesthetic state apparatuses, aesthetic interpellation, and pseudo dialectics, all of which are used to understand the role of aesthetic experience and its place in everyday life. - In the space long thought as necessary to fill spanning the gap between Marx and Freud, the author proposes that aesthetics can be located and defined in a concrete way. We are therefore looking at a domain involving and implicating feelings, affections, dispositions, sensibilities and sensuality, as well as their social role in art, tradition, ritual, and taboo. With the classic Marxist concepts of base and superstructure divided into levels, economic, ideological, and political, the aesthetic level of practice is the area that has traditionally been mostly either missing or mislocated and, especially perhaps, misrepresented for political reasons. The importance of this level is that it fuels and supports the media, or as Althusser described it the 'traffic' (or mediation) between base and superstructure, although for Althusser this was ideological traffic. Here, this is also defined as aesthetic. From this vantage point, we begin to be able to see aesthetic state apparatuses, analyse how they function, both in the past, historically (for example firstly in art history), and today, in the contemporary political context, to grasp the role that art and feelings, along with affective alienation, plays in our culture as a complete and, in fact, cyclical reciprocating system.
to intervene here to present and represent the ‘world view’ of the ruling class.10 It is then, in such circumstances, a simple step for these experts and specialists to attempt to influence human motivations based on alienation, motivations for which there is no ultimate necessity to include the participation of conscious thought, with its narratives, the self assured story of the Cartesian subject, as if it were the fault of a will. What would be the aesthetic nature of these assignments? To
metaphor of base underlying a superstructure, that the actual reproduction of the previous conditions and relations of production is secured. Marx, we think, knew this much in 1844. When writing about the capitalist conditions of production he describes how on account of the alienation from creative labor that workers’ experience, what is human (that is, conscious planned activity) becomes felt to be its opposite, drudgery. He says that because of this inversion what lies outside the labor
state apparatuses (which deal with the reproduction of ideas) emerged from a feudal background, that art, although definitely located within religious culture, was even in its feudal past just as political, not least because religion itself was a political force for the maintenance of class order. The change in the mode of production does not alter this aspect. To be rather blunt, Benjamin does not seem to acknowledge this here, and he therefore renders the modern condition of art too radically
distinct from past class relations. One consequence of this is that his idea that the art of the past did not have a mass audience as the art of modern reproduction does is overstressed. In fact, art produced by the old guild system could often be appraised by large audiences and even be paraded along streets. Also, its method of production was not often individual but workshop based, and many artists, including apprentices, could work on a single painting. This is not so dissimilar from, say,
curatorship, catalog writing, journalist criticism, standard academic interpretations, the media ‘images’ of Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway, for instance. In fact in the art gallery ASA there is a kind of ‘purified’ struggle going on between artists who perform this ideal expressive-cathartic subject, or where curators and critics elicit this interpretation from the works, and other artists who take different approaches. It must now be said in case there is any misunderstanding, that many